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Updated on Wednesday, October 28, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage communities across the U.S., a new survey from MagnifyMoney reveals that consumers are turning to one common coping mechanism — retail therapy.
In fact, MagnifyMoney’s survey found that nearly half of consumers are increasing their impulse purchases amid the pandemic, particularly those who have been laid off or furloughed. Many are spending a decent chunk of change, too, as the survey found that the average American has spent just over $250 on impulse purchases within the last 30 days.
- Key findings
- Consumers are making more impulse purchases amid COVID-19
- Impulse purchases are frequent and add up
- Most common impulse purchases are food and alcohol
- More than 6 in 10 consumers have made an impulse purchase over the last 30 days. Those most likely to have done so include Gen X (83%), consumers with a household income above $100,000 (82%), parents (78%), those laid off or furloughed because of the pandemic (74%) and men (73%).
- Compared with the past, 40% of Americans say they’re making more impulse purchases amid the coronavirus pandemic than before. That jumps to 59% for those who were laid off or furloughed versus 28% who did not experience income loss.
- On average, consumers spent $254 on impulse buys within the last 30 days. Millennials spent more than any other age group, at $374.
- The most common impulse buys among those who have recently made them are food from the grocery store (40%), alcohol (39%) and coffee (32%). Additionally, many impulse buyers also purchased coronavirus-related items, such as face masks (23%) and hand sanitizer (21%).
Consumers are making more impulse purchases amid COVID-19
We found that one side effect of the coronavirus pandemic is an increase in impulse purchases — especially among those directly affected by the pandemic. Overall, we found that 61% of respondents have made an impulse purchase (or a purchase they had no intention of buying but decided to do so right before purchasing) within the past 30 days.
Interestingly, we also discovered that people who were either furloughed or laid off due to the pandemic were more likely to make an impulse purchase, with 74% making an impulse buy compared with just 53% whose income has not been impacted. One possible explanation for this seemingly contradictory behavior could be related to research that has found that even fleeting emotions tend to influence decision-making (like the decision to click “purchase” on all of those items sitting in your online cart).
Additionally, younger generations were more likely to make an impulse buy. A staggering 83% of Gen Xers made an impulse purchase within the last 30 days, compared with 65% of millennials, 54% of Gen Z and 46% of baby boomers. Other groups more prone to impulse purchases than others included:
- Men (73% compared with 51% of women)
- High-income households (82% of households making at least $100,000 compared with 45% of households making less than $25,000)
- Parents (78% compared with 48% of those without kids)
In fact, we found that nearly half of consumers didn’t just make an impulse purchase in the last 30 days — 40% have been making more impulse purchases in general amid the coronavirus pandemic. Those impulse purchases aren’t without buyer’s remorse, though, as 79% of people said that they have made at least one impulse purchase they later regretted.
Impulse purchases are frequent and add up
Our survey found that those who are making impulse purchases amid the coronavirus pandemic are doing so on a frequent basis. Overall, we discovered that people made an average of 15 impulse purchases within the last 30 days. The most frequent impulse purchasers include:
- Men, with an average of 21 impulse purchases
- Gen Xers, also with an average of 21 impulse purchases
- People who were laid off or furloughed, with an average of 24 impulse purchases
While the most common price range of impulse purchases among survey respondents was below $20, we found that all of those small purchases can really add up over time. In fact, our survey found that consumers have spent an average of $254 on impulse purchases over the last 30 days.
We found that men were bigger spenders than women, spending an average of $371 over the last 30 days compared with the $99 spent by their female counterparts. Millennials were also bigger spenders, as they spent an average of $374 in the last 30 days compared with the $260 spent by Gen Xers, $135 by Gen Zers and $94 by baby boomers.
Most common impulse purchases are food and alcohol
Amid the pandemic, it turns out many consumers can’t resist the temptation of a little comfort food. We found that nearly half of survey respondents (40%) said that at least one of their impulse purchases within the past 30 days was food from the grocery store. Meanwhile, 39% of respondents said they impulsively purchased alcohol, followed by coffee (32%), clothes (30%) and takeout, delivery or fast food (24%).
We found some pretty stark differences between what different demographics are purchasing, too. Those in Gen Z, for example, were most likely to purchase clothing or food from the grocery store, while millennials and Gen Xers were most likely to purchase alcohol. Additionally, men were more likely to opt for alcohol while women more frequently purchased food from the grocery store. The majority of impulse purchases, our survey found, were made in-store as opposed to online.
So, what’s causing consumers to make impulsive purchases, especially during what is such a financially fraught time for so many? The top reason people gave was that they just really wanted the impulse buy (33%), followed by being attracted to an in-store display (29%) and because the item was on sale (23%).
It’s important to remember that just like reaching for a pint of ice cream after a difficult day, unhealthy habits easily can stem from feelings of stress, unhappiness and unease. It’s understandable to reach for things that make you feel good during times of trouble.
Keep in mind that those unhealthy habits include making impulse purchases, too, and if you find that your favorite form of comfort is through a shopping spree, it might be time to curb your spending. Instead, turn your energy toward beefing up your emergency fund, investing extra cash and maxing out your retirement plan — because during periods of uncertainty, one thing you can take control of is your financial future.
MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,052 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the overall population. The survey was fielded Sept. 18-22, 2020.
Generations are defined as the following ages in September 2020:
- Gen Z are 18 to 23
- Millennials are 24 to 39
- Gen X are 40 to 54
- Baby boomers are 55 to 74
While the survey also included consumers from the silent generation (defined as those age 75 and older), the sample size for that group was so small that findings related to that group weren’t included in the generational breakdowns.